Skyrim Crash Problems

I played through much of the intro just fine... no lag, no slow frame rate, no bugs, no audio issues... until the character customization. And then my whole system crashed... completely shut down as if I had hit the power button. I tried twice more, the first time getting a little further before the crash, and the second time getting all the way through.

"Whew!" I thought. "There's a bug in the character creation part, but now that I'm past that, I can get into this game."

And I did get to for a while... all the way to the part where you actually get to start interacting with the world and picking up equipment. I equipped a sword, took a swing, and watched as my screen went black yet again.

I'm not sure what's going on. I thought the issue might have just been in the character creation stage, but my crashes haven't been limited to that.

This is quite a frustrating development. It also took me several days to play Fallout 3 when it first released because of system crashes. Come on, Bethesda... throw me a bone here...

I'm playing (or at least trying to) on an Asus G74SX, for reference.

UPDATE: It looks like the issue was accumulated dust inside the machine. I bought compressed air and intended to open up the whole laptop and clean everything out... but I got nervous taking everything apart, so I went with the vacuum cleaner trick that Vojta used. I am happy to say that I haven't had a crash since.
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